Monthly Archives: December 2009

capreolinae communion


Tonight, as the wind howled up and over our hill, I took our little dog Lily out for her end-of-day business. She kept being distracted by something in the black distance, however, so I put her in the house and ventured back out into the icy night.

I trained my eyes on where Lily was looking, and after a few minutes, I could start to make out a shadow in the distance. I pulled out my camera, still on the “raw” setting, and snapped a few pictures in the hope that something would come of it. And this is exactly what I saw:


I wasn’t sure if it was an elk or a VW Microbus, but it was something bizarrely large and it didn’t seem to be afraid of me one bit. I ventured a little further up the hill, right to the split-rail fence, and took another picture as I heard it move:


And that’s when I realized it was the most massive white-tailed deer buck I’ve ever seen. It had to be almost as tall as me, and it moved so close I could hear it breathe. I was going to take another picture, but I couldn’t manipulate the flash at 19 degrees F with no gloves, and besides, I dunno, it seemed rude.

We stood a few yards apart, taking stock of the other, as the night got blacker and colder. After a minute or two, we both decided we needed to get on with our business, and we slowly backed away and went off to tend our families.

you are now free to be completely miserable about the cabin


Before we all wax yuletide about the holidays, can we approach the subject of the leg-melting would-be Underoos terrorist airline bomber? Let me get this straight… a dude gets on a plane in Nigeria and makes his way to Amsterdam with bomb parts from Yemen. He flies Northwest (or “Northworst”, as my US Air friends called it) into Detroit, tries to light some shit tied to his leg, and winds up getting tackled by a handsome young lad in his row.

In response, airlines are making draconian safety rules that may include (but are not limited to) making you sit in your seat for the last hour of the flight with nothing in your lap, getting rogered up the bum-bum by a Doberman Pinscher at every airport, and possibly banning all electronics.

I’m sorry, but these measures the day after a foiled attack is a bit like the old saw about the barn door, is it not? Here are my concerns, since I have to fly all the frickin’ time:

• That airport in Lagos, Nigeria has been marked as shitty since I was high school. The security at the Lagos Airport consists of a Xerox machine and a bunch of hamsters. Why do major European hubs keep allowing planes from Nigeria to land?

• Are they seriously going to keep people from going to the bathroom during the last hour of flight? Forget the passengers barfing on each other; I guarantee you that a burst bladder and a lawsuit will change that stupid-ass rule in a hurry.

• Are they also saying my mom can’t listen to her podcast of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” when she’s within an hour of her layover at Dallas-Fort Worth? How the hell is that making us more safe?

• How the blistering monsterfuck did this guy get all those explosives onto the plane? Isn’t that proof that security all over the world completely sucks? All those millions of shoes being taken off, those tiny lotions shoved into Ziploc bags, the wedding rings jostling at the bottom of gray bins, and the mothers being forced to drink their own breast milk… and this shithead can still walk onto a plane with liquid accelerant?

Just when you thought flying couldn’t possibly suck more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the killer app of travel – until we get China’s Fastest Train in the World, an airplane getting us from NYC to LA in five hours is still a miracle. But it’s a miracle that now comes with major lumbar support problems.

slipper topples mouse king, details at 11


I’m with Alastair Macaulay – people who hate “The Nutcracker” have forgotten what it is, and I would add they’ve forgotten what makes this exact time of year so scary and wonderful in the first place. It’d be one thing if “The Nutcracker” sucked, but the music is absolutely transcendent – how can you possibly get through the Arabian Dance without your mind drifting back two thousand years? What part of you doesn’t feel joy during the Trepak?


before the performance at Lincoln Center

The Balanchine production of “The Nutcracker” has become a yearly pilgrimage for us, and I’m not just going so they can afford to do avant garde work in the summer; I go because to see the ballet is to see through the eyes of Lucy – a girl’s fever dream, the excitement of Christmas, a favorite toy, the overwhelming longing for innocent love, and a shitload of sugar sweets. It even closes mid-reverie, with the two kids flying into the ether, a permanently drawn midnight that never quite ends.

It’s a fitting metaphor for tonight, the longest, darkest night of the year. As I lay in bed, the outside temperature monitor reads 9 degrees, and the heaters in this old house can barely keep up. My brother Steve, always one to dabble in unintentional irony, lies in the room above us and has set his sleep machine to “Mid-Summer’s Night”, so I’m also hearing the crickets and distant bullfrogs of a blisteringly hot August evening.

Everything about this time of year is state-dependent; you will only hear these carols for these few weeks, you will only see the Marzipan dancers toe across the stage for a few days. We need this, the longest night of the year, in order to feel the inexorable swing back to life – its dearth of energy gives us energy, its bleak nothingness gives us meaning.

It’s at this precise moment that we’re all back to being kids, with the ghostly apparatus holding the earth as far away from light as possible, a dream that seems to go on a little too long, giving us fear laced with excitement.

I walked into the blizzard on Saturday night, and I’d forgotten that these are yellow-orange affairs in Brooklyn. The streetlights reflect all their light around and back down, churning the streets into an amber swirl. I was hiking into a 40-mph headwind, needles of ice going straight into my eyes. As my feet numbed into the 18 inches of snow, I thought: I need this. I need to be tested. It’s not supposed to be easy.

And that, to me, is what Christmas is at the core: a story about a couple about to give birth, met with resistance at every turn, and then finally working it out as best they could. We travel and prepare and cook and come together at the very moment when all of these things are the most difficult. We need this. We need to be tested. We need to come out on the other side and appreciate each day lasting two minutes longer than the one before until they luxuriate into the mist of crickets and distant bullfrogs.


what’s better than being ambushed by Lucy, Hank and Polly on a winter morn? Happy Holidays and see you next week!



This is my reputation. I’m just writing it down so it exists somewhere, not for any other reason.

All of the following may be true. They might also be true enough, which is the same thing. They might also be false, but it doesn’t matter, because the mythology is more interesting. Anyway, here goes:

• I was the pinchfarthing bastard who used to pay the bare minimum share on checks at dinner, until I came into some money.

• Now I’m excruciatingly generous to help you out, as long as it’s something I want to help you out with.

• In the same vein, I apply undue pressure on family and friends to do shit I want to do, and frequently throw money at them to get them to do it.

• I’m immediately defensive about my supposed faults, until I turn maudlin and self-loathing and start listing faults I don’t even have.

• I’m occasionally a brilliant writer, but I don’t like rewrites, and I’m a dabbler, wholly uninterested in making something perfect.

• I’m occasionally a fantastic musician, but resist rehearsal, and pooh-pooh any preparation, which leads to the occasional massive fuck-up when it really matters.

• I like to have everyone around, and then disappear.

• I am a foul-mouthed, acid-laced vulgarian while playing sports, a trait that has only been vaguely attenuated by anti-depressants and therapy.

• I’m a hopeless prep-school bi-coastal snob with absolutely no appreciation for the way real Americans live.

• I’m a hypocritical environmentalist with a penchant for flying back and forth across the country lugging tons of electronic shit made of plastic.

• I’m intermittently funny and charming, and might have a lot of “big thoughts”, but after a while, you start wondering what I’m actually made of.

Phew. That covers a few of them, hopefully. How about your reputation?

quand il pleut, il pleut


Today was brutally cold in New York City; the kind of winds that made your face hurt. After missing trains and getting flummoxed in Brooklyn, I finally got the Lulubeans to Grand Central, where she watched the laser show on the ceiling – then we went to Rockefeller Center to see the big tree over the ice skating rink.

Spending the day with my daughter is such a wonderful thing, and it made the following news that much harder to fathom: Lillian Chason, a freshman at UNC from Barrington, RI, died today of the H1N1 virus.

The wonderful Anne from the comments section had sent me occasional updates (as she’s our Rhode Island delegate) and like most people, I’d assumed Lilian was recovering, but if you go to her heartbreaking Facebook group, the dispatches from her father continued to get worse and worse. The crew at UNC Hospital did everything they could.

I know good people die every day, but Lillian was… sorta one of us, you know? Look through the pictures, and you’ll see yourself back at the dorm, or posing with friends on a porch in mid-summer. I can’t imagine being her dad, reporting the little victories and ultimate descent, and then I saw this picture:


And I recognized it instantly as the Tuileries garden in Paris opposite the Louvre, where I took this picture with Lucy, Tessa and Seth in 2006:


All we can do is offer the Chason family our sincerest sadness over their daughter, and in return, they offer us overwhelming perspective, and an opportunity to hold our kids as tightly as we can during the bleak and the chill wind.

oh! com’è bello star su la nave!



Like all saints, St. Lucy had a pretty despicable martyrdom process – you know, with the attempted rape, the forced blinding, the knife in the throat kind of stuff – but as the patron saint of eyesight, she makes for a good necklace for my mom, who is currently battling macular degeneration to a draw.

Likewise, the St. Lucy Day tradition is pretty awesome. Based no doubt on pagan celebrations to mark the days getting longer, up in Scandinavian countries (where the sun won’t actually rise this time of year) the Lucy holiday is more about the actual meaning of “lucy” (lux, or light) and they do it right. The eldest girl of a family would wear a crown of candles, and wake her parents up with saffron buns and coffee, and then go through the village doing more of the same.

Our Dramatic Daughter, who can turn a gathering of spoons into a Russian play of high-stakes entertainment, heard the story of St. Lucy Day and wasted no time throwing herself into the role. My sister-in-law Melissa found a Crown of Candles (powered by AA batteries!) at her thrift store in Iowa City and sent them to us. Now all that was needed was the recipe for saffron buns and parents that were told to be asleep:

Lucy and Laura kneaded dough all morning

She got it right down to the white dress with a red sash, and wore the crown for two days, mostly because it acted like a miner’s helmet and allowed her to see in the dark.


I don’t know how many of you have had saffron buns, but they are AWESOME. I didn’t know saffron was allowed in such things. If you think about it, this holiday was incredibly special, given the Scandinavians live 14,000 miles away from the nearest saffron flower and coffee bean. Both would have been mind-bogglingly scarce in Olde Sweden, which reminded me of my family’s tradition of the orange in your Christmas stocking.

Anyway, our Lucy is here to remind you that light will return! Only five more nights before the days get longer!


it takes brains to do that anyway


I confess I was reading the other day and so I’m stealing this totally awesome question: what song or video did you love SO MUCH that you played it like ten times consecutively, either as a child or an adult?

I can think of four off the bat:

1. “Free to Be, You and Me” (opening song), sometime in the ’70s

2. “The Message” – Grandmaster Flash (on cassette recorded off the radio), ’81

3. “Mayor of Simpleton” – XTC (spring ’89)

4. “Heaven or Las Vegas” – Cocteau Twins (mid-’90s)…

nutmeg karma


Dear People of Connecticut:

WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING? Us progressives told you Joe Lieberman was a sanctimonious prick who couldn’t be trusted, and now that you’ve stuck him with us, you’re all like “oh my god, Joe Lieberman is a sanctimonious prick who can’t be trusted!” As much as us progressives have to suffer with the goddamn moronic choices made by our fellow Americans, we are also PRETTY MUCH ALWAYS RIGHT.

I will leave the genteel stiff-upper-lip stoicism to those with better manners, because I am not above yelling “WE TOLD YOU SO.” Recent American history is littered with our correct-yet-unheeded prognostications and now yet another has come to pass: Joe Motherfucking Lieberman.

The record will show that I loathed that droning, self-righteous asshole clear back in 2003, and still managed to choke down my bile long enough to pull for the doomed Kerry ticket – but really, what was the alternative? Many of us yelped for joy when Ned Lamont knocked him off the Democratic ticket, but when Lieberman won the Senate race as an “independent”, we were forced to endure the media narrative of “regular people don’t like being told what to do by the liberal blogosphere.”

Well, they ought to, if they know what’s good for them. A year after Joementum (**HORRFFFFF**) won the seat, people from Connecticut were asked if they’d made the right decision. “No fucking way” led 51-37, and even Independents agreed, 53-36.

Again, what were you thinking, Connecticut? What vital piece of information was not available to you at the time of the election? You’re like the 17 million Bush voters who subsequently disapproved of him, and like them, you make me fucking sick. You should be ashamed for sticking us with this guy.


To paraphrase “A Fish Called Wanda”, calling Joe Lieberman a selfish twat is an insult to selfish twats. 68% of Connecticut wants the public option, but Lieberman is going to torpedo it, and why? Is it because corporate Connecticut is the home to Aetna and all the big health insurers? Is it because he knows killing the public option will destroy Democrats’ re-election prospects next year? Or does he just want the whole world to be kowtowing at him him him?

He claims to be super-religious, but I didn’t know self-serving, infuriating vanity was a major tenet of Judaism. If he manages to fuck meaningful change for American health care, then he will be personally responsible for actual Americans dying, and I know there’s nothing in the Torah about that.

Connecticut, I want you to look at that droopy-jowled, whining, proselytizing, fatuous schmo and craft an apology to the rest of us. Don’t worry about spelling, just put your heart into it.

he’ll say are you married, I’ll say no man, but


All I want is a Big Wheel so it go vroom vroom all over the house and outside, and when I get bigger I can move the seat back ‘cuz it has holes for that.

All I want is the yellow G.I. Joe helicopter because I have one G.I. Joe in my bedroom and the other one lives down the laundry chute in the basement, and the little elevator I built with cardboard and string keeps breaking.

All I want is the orange Huffy 10-speed with the awesome foam handlebar tape to keep your fingers comfortable on long journeys. I plan to ride the McDonald’s bike marathon and you can sponsor me for one dollar a mile if you want.

All I want is a bass guitar – I’ve been listening to “Synchronicity” since the summer started, and I’ve gotten so good at doing the bass lines on my tennis racquet that I’m sure I can just start from there.

All I want is the Mac Plus. I know it’s a gajillion dollars, but I’ve been using Mom’s original Mac for two years, doing music notation and writing stories for Jill McCorkle, and it looks like this is not going to be a fad.

All I want is for someone to help me pay my motherfucking rent, because two of my roommates just bolted, and left us with all the bills, and I’m just so sick of worrying about money all the god damned time.

All I want is to be away from here, to do anything else, to not feel like killing myself.

All I want is some help to buy this ring, because I could get the cheaper one, but I don’t know, I saw this one, and it’s so perfect, and I hope she’ll be wearing it for the rest of her life, y’know?

All I want is to have everyone together, just so we know we all made it this far, to break bread with the ones we love, to drink eggnog, and watch movies, and not answer any cell phones, because everyone we care about is here.

All I want is to get my daughter a purple bicycle.